Stories by Author

Stewart Wolpin

Stewart Wolpin has been writing about consumer electronics for more than 30 years and has attended more than 40 CESs (there used to be a summer show in Chicago). He is a judge for the Consumer Electronics Association Hall of Fame and writes the bios of the electees. He also has written on small stakes poker ("The Rules of Neighborhood Poker") and baseball ("Bums No More: The Championship Season of the 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers").

 
What were the brains at Apple thinking by not giving the "new iPad" a name? Are we just supposed to call it "the new iPad" now? That's how Apple's Web site refers to it — with a lowercase "n" in "new," so it's not even a name name. It's pretentious is what it is. But beyond pretension, calling it "the new iPad" is like referring to a new Canon camera as "the new Canon camera," or a new Cadillac as "the new Cadillac" or a new pair of Christian Louboutin shoes as "the new FABULOUS Christian Louboutin shoes." Can you be vaguer? You are aware there are more than one iPad model, right? Apparently not.
 
Straddling the border of north central Virginia and southeastern West Virginia is a 13,000-square-mile mountainous region known as the United States National Radio Quiet Zone. To protect the clutch of radio telescopes located within its borders from radio interference, the federal government highly regulates wireless technology, which means no cellphones and few Wi-Fi hotspots. Sleepy towns within this quiet zone might soon be invaded by folks trying to escape the onslaught of wireless technologies. You see, not only are cellphones suspected (emphasis on suspected) of causing cancer, but some scientists are now claiming Wi-Fi should be seen as a health hazard. But there are equally vociferous scientists who say all these Wi-Fi Chicken Littles are foolish fowl. So, is Wi-Fi harmful to you? This is an imponderable on the level of asking if animals have souls, or why we park in a driveway but drive on a parkway, or Coke or Pepsi. Of course, I have all the answers.
 
Robert Moses, a man who never learned how to drive, ironically was the greatest road builder in history. From the early 1930s to 1968, Moses built nearly every major highway in and around New York City and Long Island, and all the bridges and tunnels attached thereto (and lots of other stuff). Moses also may have invented the traffic jam. To everyone's shock, a Moses highway designed to alleviate traffic would suddenly fill with it, forcing him to build more highways, which in turn got filled with traffic, forcing him to build more highways, which then got filled with more traffic… I bring up Mr. Moses and his crowded highway exploits because of a recent post week on CNN Money, "Sorry, America: Your Wireless Airways Are Full." Welcome to the spectrum crunch reporting party, mainstream media. It seems Moses' self-perpetuating highway expansion cycle is repeating itself on our cellular network highways. Each time our smartphones and tablets become more powerful, we pull more content through the 3G and 4G spectrum, encouraging smartphone makers to make more powerful smartphones, encouraging us we pull more content through the 3G and 4G spectrum… Cellular spectrum is finite. We're filling it like a closet with junk — or a new road everyone wants to drive on. But a solution is coming: Wi-Fi to the rescue!
 
A funny thing happened at Toy Fair this week. Not funny as in funny toys or funny games, but funny as in a sudden but fundamental shift in how we will play from now on. Toy giants such as Hasbro and Mattel, middling companies trying to find profitable new niches and new companies all are creating a new type of product — apps (some Android, most Apple iOS) combined to interact with some sort of physical real-life objects to create a new virtual play experience. For instance, Hasbro has its Lazer Tag blaster, into which you clip an iPhone or iPod to create a heads-up display. Mattel has Hot Wheels designed to roll over a course right on top of an iPad screen. WowWee's AppGear games include ZombieBurbz, little collectable figurines that are set on a table and "seen" in the virtual iPad game. These new app-based toys relates to the on-going controversy about conditions in Apple's Chinese factories, including the pending iPad 3. As part of the conversation, many critics are asking why, with Apple's enormous profits, isn't the company bringing these manufacturing jobs back to the U.S. What's not being discussed is all the perhaps millions of jobs Apple already has produced for the U.S. economy.
 
If your parents ever yelled at you to get out of the house to get some exercise (or if your own conscience bugs you about it) but you didn't want to stop playing Call of Duty or Halo, Hasbro has a compromise: Lazer Tag, which mixes first shooting video game play with the real world. Update at the bottom of this post.
 
I'm in this picture, but even I don't recognize me. It's because we're all dressed up in bunny suits: light cloth or paper coveralls and booties and hoods and face masks you wear in a clean room where microchips or sensitive equipment is manufactured. If you don't wear a bunny suit every day, you feel (and look) silly. Over the last 25 years or so, I've donned many a bunny suit during visits to numerous factories in Japan and South Korea and witnessed a sea of young, bunny-suited or uniformed factory workers toiling in stultifyingly sterile factories repetitively assembling cellphones, PCs, TVs, VCRs, DVD players, washing machines, microwave ovens, refrigerators, air conditioners, etc. It's how our gadgets are made, like it or not. So the recent "exposés" about working conditions in Chinese factories making iPads, iPhones and iPods perhaps shock but don't surprise me, and they shouldn't surprise you.
 
Over the New Year's weekend, I was reminded of an old comedy record called The First Family, a hilarious and enormously popular spoof of the Kennedy administration from the early 1960s, pulled from circulation after JFK's assassination in 1963. A friend in my age demographic had never heard of it. So I attached an MP3 file of one of the tracks I had made from my CD copy and emailed it to him. In the wake of all the SOPA brouhaha, I got to thinking about this exchange. I wasn't selling the track or album to him; I didn't send him the entire album; I didn't post it anywhere where someone else might listen to it for nothing (though someone has, but I'm not telling you where). But I felt dirty nonetheless. And suddenly I understood the urge that led lawmakers to create the Frankenstein monster that is SOPA and its evil spawn PIPA.
 
Admit it. You leave all your electronics gear on standby. Your PC is in sleep, but it's on all the time. Likewise your HDTV, your A/V receiver, your cable box. I know because mine are all on standby, and yet here at the world's tech mecca is a solution that would have allowed me to kill my power strips and what have you all the way across the country.

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